Millions of Americans preparing to hit the road this summer might face a looming gas shortage. It’s not because of lack of fuel, but more of a lack of tanker truck drivers needed to deliver the gas.
Summer Gas Shortage
For Americans preparing to embark on a summer trip after enduring a year of staying at home, check your local gas stations first. However, it’s not because of a looming oil crisis or lack of gasoline. It’s a matter of getting fuel from the depots into local gas stations that’s the problem.
According to the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC), between 20% to 25% of tank trucks will remain idle this summer due to a lack of qualified drivers. In contrast, only 10% of trucks lay idle over the summer of 2019.
“We've been dealing with a driver shortage for a while, but the pandemic took that issue and metastasized it,” said Ryan Streblow, NTTC executive vice president. “It certainly has grown exponentially,” he added.
Drivers Left Their Trucks Job Due To Low Demand During the Pandemic
Truck drivers who haul gasoline require a special certification to run tanker trucks. Apart from a commercial driver’s license, drivers must undergo weeks of training after getting hired.
Even as the pay is attractive, many drivers find the work strenuous. Long-haul deliveries keep drivers away from home for days or weeks at a time.
Many drivers left the profession last year as demand for fuel dried up during the pandemic. During the period where demand remained nonexistent, truck drivers took other jobs. Holly McCormick, VP of driver recruitment and retention at Groendyke Transport, said many left altogether because of COVID-19.
“We were even hauling boxes for Amazon just to keep our drivers busy. A lot of drivers didn't want to do the safety protocols,” she said. In addition, Groendyke realized they’re dealing with an aging workforce. Given the demanding protocols, McCormick said many elected to retire.
Driver School Shutdowns And Alcohol/Drug Tests
In addition, McCormick said the shutdown of many driver schools last year closed the pipeline for new drivers. This year, schools have yet to produce the batch of drivers supposedly graduating from last year.
Plus, a new federal clearinghouse that went online in January 2020 began pulling out drivers with drug or alcohol violations or failed tests. This reduced between 40,000 to 60,000 total drivers out of the national employment pool.
Pre-pandemic, driver turnover can run up to 50% annually. However, turnover climbed to 70% in April last year. Brad Fulton, director of research and analytics at Stay Metrics, a trucking recruiting and retention firm said the pandemic made driving jobs harder.
Many newly hired tanker drivers left to get other jobs quickly. Many transferred to the construction industry, which recorded increased activity last year.
Raising Fees to Adjust Pay
Operators began raising tanker driver pay to fill the demand. However, they had to raise hauling charges to cover the raises. “I had to double my recruiting budget to get the same number of drivers,” McCormick said.
Meanwhile, businesses worry about what the driver shortage would mean for their deliveries. Jeff Lenard, the spokesman at the National Association of Convenience Stores, noted that demand for gas already went back to 97% of 2019’s rates.
“I've talked to retailers, they say there could be places where there are brief outages. If they have no fuel, they have no business. People aren't going to stop in for a sandwich if you don't have fuel,” he said.
Vacation Spots At Risk For Gas Shortage Problems
Already, some vacation hotspots in Florida, Arizona, and Missouri reported sporadic outages during Spring Break. Tom Kloza, a chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service, the shortage can produce a domino effect.
Even if only a few stations run out of gas, this could spark gasoline run. Drivers will start topping off their tanks to avoid running dry down the road, said Kloza. “Imagine the hoarding with toilet paper and topping off of gas tanks that we see after hurricanes and you can see what might happen,” he added.
The problem is made worse by the strong demand for gas, he added, which some forecast could top 10 million barrels a day for the first time ever at various points this summer. “It doesn't take much,” he said. “Crowd behavior can provoke shortages.”
Watch the CBS Sacramento video reporting that a trucker shortage can lead to a summer gas shortage:
Do you foresee a gas shortage in the coming weeks? If it’s a driver shortage, how do you see this problem getting solved?
Let us know what you think by sharing your comments in the comments section below.